Prison mutiny men get ‘cat’


Prison (also judicial) CP – July 1954


Corpun file 5561



Daily Mirror, London, 7 July 1954

Prison mutiny men get ‘cat’

TWO men who took part in the Wandsworth Prison mutiny on May 26 got the “cat” yesterday. They were William Dair (eighteen strokes) and Thomas Edward Harris (six strokes).

Five warders and five prisoners were injured in the mutiny.


Corpun file 5562



Daily Mirror, London, 10 July 1954

Prisoner who hit warder is birched

Peter Richard Shanks, 19, was yesterday given six strokes of the birch at Lewes (Sussex) prison for attacking a warder with his fists. Shanks is serving a twenty-one months’ sentence for robbery with violence.


Empire News, Manchester, 11 July 1954

Only the ‘CAT’ holds back the brutes

FABIAN OF THE YARD [see footnote **] arrested the Mayfair playboys who were sent to the flogging shed — now he hits out on the day’s top talking-point

TWO convicts got the “cat” in Wandsworth last week. You know what that means.

They were strapped to an execution triangle and flogged. One man got 18 strokes, the other six.

Press cuttingBoth convicts received this punishment for brutally attacking prison officers, and both men are now very unlikely to attack a prison officer again. Insurance assessors would give you long odds against it.

Few men get the “cat” twice. I know only one man who did. And he was a diabolical brute. He specialised in robbery with violence. I saw one of his victims — an old shopkeeper, who looked as if she’d been despoiled by a grisly bear. He went to gaol. And he got the “cat.”

The whip-marks had scarcely healed before he attacked a prison officer. And he got the “cat” again.


Such a man, you might think, is surely insane? Well, perhaps the main reason he was never certified was that the authorities sent a psychiatrist to him, instead of a veterinary surgeon.

For he was a brute. And I happen to know what was going on in his mind. He told me afterwards.

He thought a man could only be given the “cat” once during any prison term. He happened to be misinformed.

For a man to be judged criminally insane he must not know what he is doing, or must not realise that it is wrong.

What then are you to do with such as this villain, who knew what he was doing — knew that it was wrong — knew that attacking a prison officer inside prison walls must mean punishment. Yet still he did it?

Obviously, the only way to get a message of disapproval into such an obtuse skull is via the nine whipcord communications lines of the Home Office cat-o’-nine-tails through the flesh of his shoulders and nerves up to his selfish, destructive, jungle brain.


Prison doesn’t worry such men. And how can we judge by normal human standards a man who is not worried by prison? Gaol is a rotten place. It is a hell-hole, don’t mistake me. Yet these men don’t fear it.

What then do they fear? Only that one thing. The “cat.”

Yes, I know this kind of talk is out of date. And I realise that prison floggings will also one day be out of date, just as prisons will be. I shall be glad to see that day when in some distant tomorrow we understand criminals well enough to cure them.

But right now we have not reached such a stage. We still have prisons and in them we keep dangerous men. While these men exist the “cat” must stay. And it must be used. It is the only protection prison officers have.


For prison is not a normal place. Inside those walls the decent rules do not apply. Caged men can build up brooding hatreds.

Caged men can never be entirely sane. So for them, as for caged animals, there must be something to hold them in check. And it is the threat of the whip.

Much nonsense is talked about the “cat” anyway. I’d like to let some daylight on this dark subject.

You probably think of the “cat” as a huge and horrible instrument, don’t you? Like an executioner’s axe. In Parliament it was recently described as “a terrible weapon” … “the most punishing instrument of castigation at present functioning in the penal system of any civilised State throughout the whole world.”

Rubbish! Judge for yourself. Pick up an ordinary glass of beer. Or a glass of milk, if you like. How heavy does it weigh in your hand? I’ll tell you — it is ten ounces, not including the weight of the actual glass.

No barbs

Not much, is it? Well I assure you that it weighs more than does the Home Office cat-o’-nine-tails!

Total weight of the “cat” is nine ounces, including the handle. And the nine whipcord thongs that do the actual striking weigh only 2½ ounces. You could send them through the mails in an envelope for an ordinary stamp.

Each cord end is bound carefully with silk thread. Like the tassels of a lady’s dressing-gown. No knots, no nails, no jagged barbs. You didn’t know that, did you?

Nor is the warder who gives the punishment permitted to swing his arm with the stroke. The law forbids this. Nor may he move his feet.

He must place himself directly behind the convict who is to receive it, and must “throw” the lashes forward with a wrist and forearm motion, like a fisherman casting a trout-fly.

The result: the whipcords do not gouge into the punished man’s back, but simply “pluck” and “pick” at it.


How then does it cause such intense, rending damage to a man’s back? The fact is that it doesn’t.

I know. It was I who sent the four Mayfair playboys up before the judge for brutally beating and robbing a jeweller in the Hyde Park Hotel and two of these young society men got the “cat.”

One got the maximum — 20 strokes. And the other got 10. It sent a shudder through England to read about it. Remember?

Well, I had a drink with both men when they finished their prison sentences. It was not my idea. They came to see me.

One of them said: “Would you like to see what all the fuss was about?”

He wanted to show me what the “cat” had done to him.

Now I believe — as do most senior police officers — that an official should know exactly what he is doing, the full consequences of his acts.

I think judges should be as familiar with the grim interiors of prisons as they are with the barristers’ robing-rooms. And I was glad to agree to look at this young fellow’s back.


I felt that, however shocking the sight, it would help me better to understand my responsibilities as a policeman.

We went into a private room. He pulled his shirt off. “There,” he said, “on the right shoulder blade, Mr. Fabian.”

Yes I could see it. The scars looked like smallpox marks. No better and no worse.

He said, “There it is. That finishes me. You’ll never see me inside prison again.”

“It was so bad?” I asked. He nodded. “The pain wasn’t so bad. Not nearly as bad as I’d expected.

“But to be strapped up there to this easel thing, and whipped like a dog, with the chief warder counting ‘one …. two ….’ and the prison doctor peering into your face from a hand’s width away to see how you’re taking it — well, I found myself thinking what kind of animal had I become that this was the only way civilised society could pay my score? To be whipped like a donkey?


“No — I’m going away where nobody knows about this — I’m going to start the slate clean.”

He did, too. Both of these Mayfair boys did. And that is why I have been careful not to use their names in telling you this story.

Because they are names to be proud of again. The names of men who made their mistake, took their punishment, became wiser and repented.

I remember one day while I was an inspector at the old Vine-street police station. It was a Sunday afternoon and a man was brought in charged with jumping out at an elderly woman and trying to steal her handbag in Berkeley-square.

I looked at the thief, who was a real old lag. And then at the woman, who hardly reached up to his elbow, and who looked as frail as a plucked sparrow.

“When he grabbed her handbag, sir,” said the police constable, “she wouldn’t let go. She took hold of his jacket lapels and held on to him until I arrived on the scene, sir. He made some efforts to escape, but was apparently unable to do so.”

I asked the old lady: “He didn’t try to hit you, then, madam?”

The thief broke in. “Hit her, guv? Not me, guv! I don’t want my back scratched!”

It was the “cat” he meant. The “cat” he feared. And undoubtedly, although the shock and pain must be markedly severe, yet I do not think it is the physical agony that makes judicial corporal punishment so dreaded by these men. It is the disgrace.

I have heard it said among criminals that they would sooner have the “cat” than the “birch.” Because the birch was considered to be more degrading, although it leaves no marks. The heaviest type of judicial “birch”, four feet long, weighs only twelve ounces.


The last time the birch was awarded in a magistrate’s court in the British Isles was in Jersey, only a few weeks ago, when a gang of “Teddy Boys” tried to wreck a dance hall and attacked the attendants with weapons.

The leader of the gang was ordered to receive six strokes of the birch.

But it is forbidden here on the English mainland, except in such cases as that of 19-year-old Peter Richard Shanks, who was given six strokes at Lewes Gaol last week for attacking a prison officer.

All I can say is that while I am very glad to see enlightenment, humanity and reform coming so quickly into our judicial system — I do wish the thugs, crooks and cosh-boys would hurry and catch up on this sweetness and light.

It is they who are lagging behind. Not us!